“I’m old enough to remember the first Earth Day,” Andy Bartholomay admits. “We were destroying very quickly the environment around us. One of the things the first Earth Day did was put us back in touch with where we come from.”
Andy teaches forestry at Pennsylvania College of Technology. Because his students will manage forest resources for the next generation, he believes it is important they respect nature and understand their effects on the environment.
“I think Earth Day is a really good reminder that people are linked to that land, and the land is linked to the people,” he said during an interview featured in the Working Class: Build & Grow Green public television documentary, available now for online viewing.
“Where did the wood in your house come from? It came from a forest. Where is carbon being sequestered today? It’s being sequestered in the trees in your yard. I think people have a much better understanding of how they relate to the environment and that they are actually part of the environment,” he explained.
As a forestry professional, Andy sees nature as a resource that people can use wisely to meet present needs while protecting the environment for future generations.
“Even though my background is heavily into harvesting and regeneration and the manipulation of the resource, I still hug trees,” Andy said. “I’m in awe when I go in and see an old, tall tree that’s survived for centuries … It’s amazing to me. I’ll hug a tree. I admit it.”
Another Penn College teacher featured in Working Class: Build & Grow Green, Deb Buckman, remembered that the first Earth Day came as “a bit of a shock” to her. She grew up in a pristine environment, in Northcentral Pennsylvania, which had not yet seen obvious effects of pollution.
“It focused a big beam of light on what industry was doing, what municipalities were doing, and even what individuals were doing to create damage to the environment,” the chemistry and environmental science teacher said.
After college, Deb worked in industry, helping the companies comply with environmental regulations.
She recalled, “Industry used to be the big bad guy, but most of them now are very pro-environmental and really do want to work with making things better … There’s a lot more dialogue between industrial people and people who care greatly about the environment to try and solve some of these problems.”
I asked Deb how we can do better jobs balancing environmental concerns with the desire for modern conveniences. She suggested that we ask ourselves these questions before consuming products:
- Do I really need this?
- Where did it come from – locally or from thousands of miles away?
- How much do I need? (We throw out a lot of stuff – from food to big appliances.)
- Do I really need to replace something that works with a newer model?
- Where will the item that I discard end up? Will it be recycled?
“Every life does make an impact,” Deb declared.
“Unless you’re standing and doing absolutely nothing, you are making an impact. We make an impact every day. We travel in our cars, which means we burn gasoline; the gasoline had to come from some place … The growing of all the food and all the impacts that happen with that. Our clothes make an impact. Every single thing you do makes an impact on the environment.”
Deb believes history has taught us important lessons that can help us do a better job managing our natural resources. In Pennsylvania, she recalled, those lessons came from big “booms” related to timber and coal and, more recently, natural gas.
“I think we’ve learned a lot from the past mistakes … We learned that if you just leave coal mines and abandon them, you’re going to wind up with acid mine drainage, which destroys everything. We learned that we need to have trees and don’t strip everything down all the way.”
Andy described how the devastation of forests in the 19th century left an important legacy: “At one point Pennsylvania was completely clear cut with a few exceptions here and there. There was no look at the future.”
“The modern practice of forestry in Pennsylvania and most of the United States is a lesson of sustainable growth and sustainability … an effort to maintain forest in perpetuity so that we can have the wood products and the fiber that we need while, at the same time, maintaining balance in the ecosystem,” Andy said. “Today, a truly managed forest is one that is sustainable, so that there will be forest – generation after generation.”
Earth Day 2017 (Saturday, April 22) is a perfect opportunity to share messages of history and hope for the future with the next generation. Take your children … take your students … take yourself … into the outdoors and appreciate the gifts and the resources that nature provides.
Then, take time to consider your impact on Planet Earth.
“Everything that we do today will affect what happens next year and the year after and a hundred years from now,” Andy reminded me. “If we do our job well then we’ve impacted future generations in a very positive manner.”
PARENTS & TEACHERS: See my last blog for links to resources that can help you share Earth Day and Climate Week activities with your children and teens.